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2022's Flood of Lincoln Books

By Edward Epstein

Washington, D.C.

Monday, December 5, 2022

2022, like years stretching back decades, has brought a gusher of notable books about Abraham Lincoln, the most written-about person in American history.

The volumes, from longtime best-selling authors and others whose work is just as good but haven't gotten the same attention, should appeal to newcomers to the Lincoln canon or to longtime students and scholars of Lincoln's life, philosophy and meaning for today. All the works show why, year in and year out, Lincoln's ever-appealing story and personality, are a sure-fire bet for publishers and authors.

The book leading the publicity parade is Jon Meacham's "And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle." Meacham is a familiar figure on television talk shows, always insightful and offering perspective on the often-unsettling news of the day. A Meacham book is a sure blockbuster, so the author and Random House, his publisher, have pulled out all the stops for his Lincoln biography. His book has been featured in a Time magazine cover story. The author is making the circuit of book-talk events (he is scheduled to speak at the Lincoln Forum in Gettysburg on Friday, Nov. 18) and the work is getting reviews in major newspapers, magazines and journals.

Meacham's one-volume biography of Lincoln is a mouthful. It's well-written, covers all the bases, and gives an even-handed account of Lincoln's life, stressing the fact that he was an imperfect man who step by step worked toward spreading social justice. But for those who regularly read about Lincoln the book might be less than sizzling.

Two other new books, David J. Kent's "Fire of Genius: How Abraham Lincoln's Commitment to Science and Technology Helped Modernize America" and Roger Lowenstein's "Ways and Means" are top-quality works that show it can be rewarding to read about one aspect of Lincoln's momentous presidency.

Kent, president of the Lincoln Group of D.C, shows how Lincoln became what we today would call an "early adopter" and supporter of new technologies -- railroads, the telegraph, photography -- and how that enthusiasm informed his focus on improving life for ordinary Americans and made him an optimist about the country's future.

Lowenstein, a veteran financial journalist, explains how Lincoln his and his obstreperous treasury secretary, Salmon P. Chase, introduced a host of then-novel measures to finance the civil war, and in the process transformed the U.S. economy. They sold hundreds of millions of dollars in government bonds, created a national currency, introduced a system of national banks and imposed the first income tax, ,although only on the richest people. Lowenstein's story shows how war can often produce unexpected and permanent side effects.

Chase, by the way, gets the full-scale biography treatment from Walter Stahr, another veteran author of Civil War works. His "Salmon P. Chase: Lincoln's Vital Rival" is a worthy companion to his authoritative biographies of William Seward and Edwin Stanton, two other stalwarts of Lincoln's cabinet.

Another book of 2022 that has gotten a lot of attention in Terry Alford's "In the Houses of Their Dead: The Lincolns, the Booths and the Spirits." His book brings to life (forgive the pun) the mid-19th century world of efforts to communicate with the spirit world.

For a complete list of 2022 Lincoln books, visit the Study Forum tab on this website and then click on the books about Lincoln drop-down. You'll find listings of several years worth of books about the 16th president.


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